Salesforce Lightning: The Dynamics CRM Skin for Salesforce


Back in November I tweeted how the new look and feel of Salesforce (called Salesforce Lightning) looked very similar to Dynamics CRM.


I always had it on my list to write a blog exploring this in more detail, so here it is.

My source for the new features and the look of the product is the Sales Cloud Keynote from last year’s Dreamforce conference. The reason it was shown at the Sales Cloud keynote was because the new look and feel is only available for the Sales Cloud and not for the other Salesforce Clouds. This is not the case with Dynamics CRM, of course, because all three ‘clouds’ (Sales, Service, and Marketing) are available together and therefore share the same look and feel with each other.

How Did Salesforce Previously Look?

The keynote focussed a lot of their attention on leads so, if we look at a Lead record from the pre-Lightning Salesforce, it looked something like this (image courtesy of the Salesforce developer forums).


Like Dynamics CRM 2011, the old forms were very white. Here is an opportunity form from Dynamics CRM 2011 for comparison, thanks to the excellent chaps at Sonoma.

The layout is very similar (at least to my eyes). The big difference is a lack of menu in CRM because Dynamics CRM 2011 was pop-tastic, opening records in their own windows, whereas Salesforce does it all within the one pane. Today Dynamics CRM also keeps things in the one pane presumably because it makes transitioning the page to mobile devices and tablets so much easier. Given Salesforce has had basically the same look and feel for quite a few years, it is probably fair to say Microsoft was ‘inspired’ by the Salesforce design when it decided to kill the popups (I am sure the constant feedback by partners and customers also helped).

The Thinking Behind Lightning

Salesforce claim their design was driven by three key values: a desire to be ‘modern’, to provide the user with Intelligence (charting and dashboards), and to provide automation.


They also talked about using eye tracking, one-way mirror studies and reacting to customer feedback. I have no doubt this did go on. I also have no doubt that Salesforce looked at their competitors for inspiration. Let me be very clear on this, there is nothing wrong with gathering information on your competitors and copying their success. If a rival product has a feature which will delight customers, and that feature is not protected, it is fair game.

Comparing Lightning and Dynamics CRM 2013/2015

Let us look at the features shown in the keynote which stood out for me. For comparison, I will use my handy Dynamics CRM 30-day trial. Strictly speaking, this is Dynamics CRM 2016 but the look and feel are practically unaltered from CRM 2013/2015.


Highlight Panel


The highlight panel are the fields at the top of the form. This is what we call the header and has been a feature of Dynamics CRM since, I believe, v1.0. It is very useful to show the key information to the user eliminating the need to scroll through the form. Dynamics CRM used to have the fields spread across the form in their own line, as can be seen in the 2011 screenshot above but, these days, it has been brought in-line with the record name and photo field.

I am not sure if it is possible with the Salesforce header, but in Dynamics CRM these fields are also editable, which means if a value is wrong it is very easy to adjust it.

Sales Path on Leads


Sales Path was a Spring 15 feature for Salesforce and is cannily similar to the Dynamics CRM Business Process Flow which came out with Dynamics CRM 2013 2011 (Thank you Gus Gonzalez) . As you can see in the screenshots, the Lead forms for both products have the Sales Path at the top of the record, below the header.

Probably the key difference in the two is that, if I heard the keynote correctly, Sales Path is only available for Opportunities and Leads, whereas Business Process Flows are available for practically any entity in Dynamics CRM and can incorporate more than one entity e.g. a process can take a phone call, through to lead, through to opportunity.

Sales Charts on Lists


They keynote suggested the ability to have a chart next to a record list was new to Lightning. Dynamics CRM also has this.


What is nice about the Dynamics CRM one is the ability to click on an area in the graph and the records automatically filter to that selection. So, for example, in the sales funnel above, I can select the orange segment of the funnel and the list of opportunities filters to just the qualified opportunities. You can also then drill down as many times as you like e.g. All qualified opportunities created in the last seven days.

The Salesforce keynote did show similar features but not quite as flexible. For example, the ability to apply a filter on a graph.


In Dynamics we simply filter the view and the graph automatically adjusts. Another similar feature was Salesforce Wave (which looked like Power BI). This gives Salesforce similar power to the standard drill-down graphs of Dynamics CRM but costs an additional US$75 pupm.

Pretty Dashboards Which Are Configurable


I am pretty sure Salesforce has had dashboards for a number of years but the new feature with Lightning seems to be their configurability. Here is the Dynamics CRM Sales Manager Dashboard for comparison.


Like the Salesforce one, it is drag and drop configurable and, like the charts mentioned in the previous section, they can be drilled in to for additional insight.

Nice Features to Inspire Microsoft

Before I get accused of being completely biased in my analysis, there were a couple of features to inspire Microsoft in future releases. The timeline for activities is nice for a summary of interaction on a record. This would be a nice addition to Dynamics CRM.

Also, the pipeline board (a drag and drop grid version of the sales pipeline funnel) was also good and I expect is well received by time-poor salespeople.


There is no doubt that Salesforce Lightning and Dynamics CRM have a similar look and feel. The good news is if a company moves from one of these products to the other which, in my experience, happens quite a lot, Dynamics CRM will be very familiar, reducing transition time and costs.

The main difference I see in the form is the placement of the main menu (above for Dynamics CRM and on the left side for Salesforce) and the use of words in the menu for Dynamics CRM and icons in Salesforce. I prefer words these days because, with icons, it is inevitable that a legend need to be provided to translate the meaning e.g. crown = opportunity. To Salesforce’s credit though, you can click above the menu to get the name of each icon but my inclination is to cut to the chase and remove the icons altogether.

The way I see it, both products benefit from the presence of the other. Sir Isaac Newton famously said “If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.”  So it is with Microsoft and Salesforce which, if we believe Forrester and Gartner, are both CRM giants these days. Both companies innovate through their own creativity and by borrowing from the creativity of others. I personally see this as a good thing. Each company keeps the other on their toes and while there is strong competition between them, and it is the customer who receives the benefits.


One thought on “Salesforce Lightning: The Dynamics CRM Skin for Salesforce

  1. There’s definitely a lot of features the Dynamics CRM product team can be proud of “building into Lightning”, but at the same time I do believe some of the similarities are nearly inevitable when developing an application used for managing accounts, contacts, leads and opportunities. In the long run I’m sure it’ll keep both companies very active in perfecting the UX and configuration tools that customers need in implementing a process flow to best serve their particular business scenarios.

    I had some initial doubts about how the Lightning UI would work on a big screen since it seemed so very mobile oriented with its menu structures and big UI components. Now that we can finally try it out in a live application, it does seem to adapt quite nicely into desktop scenarios, too. However, it’s a bit surprising that the web app is actually a bit less responsive in reflowing the form components than the Dynamics CRM web app if you resize the screen.

    Like Polaris for MS, Lightning is surely the start of a long road to travel when it comes to moving existing customers from the “legacy” Salesforce UI to the brave new world. I’ve written some of my thoughts about this transition on the following article:

    Liked by 1 person

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